Public vs. M1 Finance for ESG Investing (Review)

Both M1 Finance and Public are investing apps that let you easily find sustainable stocks and funds and buy fractional shares, for free. However, the two platforms are very different. Keep reading to learn which one you should choose.

SustainFi October 30, 2021

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At a glance

  • Both M1 Finance and Public offer commission-free trading and fractional shares. And they let you invest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) options that consider factors like carbon emissions and shareholder rights. But, because the apps are so different, the best option depends on what type of investor you are
  • Best for longer-term investors: M1 Finance. M1 Finance lets you easily create custom sustainable portfolios, rebalance them, and link your retirement account. You also get margin loans and banking options
  • Best for active traders and crypto investors: Public. Public lets you connect with and follow other investors, trade at any point during market hours, and buy crypto. But you can’t link your retirement account or create portfolios that will automatically rebalance

Keep reading to learn more.

Minimum investment


Minimum investment


Commissions and fees

None ($125/year for Plus accounts)

Commissions and fees


Sustainable option

Two Responsible Investing "Pies" + make your own

Sustainable option

ESG themes. Pick from 5,000+ stocks and funds

Fractional shares


Fractional shares


Margin loans

Yes (2.0%-3.5%)

Margin loans






What is M1 Finance?

M1 Finance is an investment platform rather than a full-service robo-advisor; it’s a cross between an online broker and a robo-advisor. M1 Finance offers an easy-to-use app that lets you build customizable portfolios (called “pies.”)

The pie portfolio model allows you to easily add a stock or an exchange-traded fund (ETF) as a piece of the pie. You choose what percentage to invest in each asset.

If you don’t want to “bake” your own pies, M1 Finance comes with over 80 premade options. The app offers two socially responsible pies, the Responsible Investing and the International Responsible Investing Pies. Both are made up of asset manager Nuveen’s ETFs. In addition, M1 Finance offers fractional shares and lets you borrow to invest.

Despite its flexibility, M1 Finance is a platform for investing, not for day trading. For example, you can only buy and sell during the daily trading window (two windows for M1 Plus members.)

Brian Barnes started Chicago-based M1 Finance in 2015. His startup has recently surpassed $4.5 billion in assets under management, raising over $300 million from investors like Softbank.

🔔 Read the full review of M1 Finance.

What is the Public app?

Public is a free social trading app and an investing social network. Formerly known as Matador, the app launched in 2019 to make investing easily accessible to everyone. With Public, you can:

  • Invest in fractional shares (“slices”) of stocks and ETFs
  • Follow your friends or popular influencers and share your ideas
  • Invest in thematic stocks and funds
  • Invest in crypto and hold it in the same app as your stock portfolio

Historically, many groups of investors missed out on the market’s returns, and Public’s goal is to correct that by making investing easy. The app has a user-friendly interface and has already surpassed 1 million users despite being launched only two years ago. Public is also inclusive: according to CEO Jannick Malling, 40% of investors are women, and 45% are minorities.

Public’s backers include Will Smith, Professor Scott Galloway, Girlboss founder Sophia Amoruso, and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. You can follow various celebrities on the app and see how they invest.

All users on the platform are verified, and the overall vibe is supportive. By verifying all the users, Public avoids the less savory aspects and the anonymity of some popular Reddit boards.

Public is committed to helping you invest rather than day trade or speculate in the short term. 90% of users say that they are mostly long-term investors. As a result, Public doesn’t offer options trading. Tellingly, when you look up a stock, the button next to it says “Invest” and not “Buy.” Public also highlights stocks deemed to be particularly risky by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

🔔 Read the full review of Public.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Account Types

Public lets you invest through your taxable investment account.

M1 Finance supports the following account types:

  • Individual and joint taxable investment accounts
  • Retirement accounts for traditional, SEP, and Roth IRAs, plus rollover IRAs
  • Custodial (UTMA/UGMA) accounts for kids

💰 The winner: M1 Finance, which supports more account types. Public doesn’t offer retirement accounts.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Banking

Public doesn’t have any banking options.

M1 Spend is a free savings account that comes with a Visa debit card. M1 Plus members get 1% APY on their money and 1% cash back on qualifying purchases. The account is FDIC-insured for up to $250,000. M1 Plus members get reimbursed for up to four ATM transactions each month.

An M1 Finance credit card is coming soon.

💰 The winner: M1 Finance.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Minimum investment

M1 Finance asks you to deposit $100 into your account to start building pies. The minimum goes up to $500 for IRAs.

Public has no minimum investment, you can start with $1. And they give you $5 in free stock when you sign up.

💰 The winner: Public.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Commissions and fees

Both M1 Finance and Public offer commission-free trading.

Public makes money from optional tipping, lending your shares, interest on the cash in your account, and markups on crypto trades.

M1 Finance makes money from M1 Plus memberships and interest on margin loans.

M1 Finance Plus memberships cost $125 per year and offer access to perks like an extra trading window and discounted borrow rates. Plus accounts also let you set up Smart Transfers, a service that sweeps excess cash into your investing account. As a Plus member, you also earn interest and get cash back on your M1 Spend account.

💰 The winner: Tie.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Stock selection

M1 Finance offers 6,000+ stocks and ETFs to choose from. Public lets you choose from 5,000+ stocks and funds.

💰 The winner: M1 Finance.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Crypto

M1 Finance doesn’t offer crypto, but Public currently supports:

  • Bitcoin (BTC)
  • Ether (ETH)
  • Cardano (ADA)
  • Dogecoin (DOGE)
  • Litecoin (LTC)
  • Bitcoin Cash (BCH)
  • Shiba Inu ($SHIB)
  • Stellar (XLM)
  • Ethereum Classic (ETC)
  • Dash (DASH)
  • Zcash (ZEC)

💰 The winner: Public.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Sustainable Investing Options

Both M1 Finance and Public let you find sustainable investing options, including stocks that score better on environmental, social, and governance metrics like carbon emissions as well as clean energy investments.

M1 Finance Responsible Investing Pies

M1 Finance comes with two premade Responsible Investing Pies, though you can “bake” your own.

The International Responsible Investing Pie includes seven Nuveen ETFs. International “slices,” split between developed and emerging market ETFs, are 30% of the pie. The remainder is made up of large, mid, and small-cap U.S. stock ETFs.

Here are the funds in the International Responsible Investing Pie:

  • U.S. large-cap growth stocks: Nuveen ESG Large-Cap Growth ETF (NULG)
  • U.S. large-cap value stocks: Nuveen ESG Large-Cap Value ETF (NULV)
  • U.S. mid-cap growth stocks: Nuveen ESG Mid-Cap Growth ETF (NUMG)
  • U.S. mid-cap value stocks: Nuveen ESG Mid-Cap Value ETF (NUMV)
  • U.S. small-cap stocks: Nuveen ESG Small-Cap ETF (NUSC)
  • International developed markets stocks: Nuveen ESG International Developed Markets Equity ETF (NUDM)
  • Emerging markets stocks: Nuveen ESG Emerging Markets Equity ETF (NUEM)

The Responsible Investing Pie has the same U.S. stock ETFs as the International Responsible Investing Pie. It doesn’t include any international ETFs. The pie splits the portfolio into five “slices,” including large-cap growth and value stocks, mid-cap growth and value stocks, and small-cap stocks.

M1’s Responsible Investing Pies do not include bonds.

🔔 We’ve created an ESG investing pie that is fossil free and costs only 0.11%. Check it out here or read more about the ESG investing pie.

Public thematic investing

Public helps you find ESG stocks and funds easily by grouping them into themes. As of October 2021, they featured the following themes:

  • Women in Charge: public companies led by female CEOs
  • Diverse Leadership: companies that are setting the bar when it comes to diversity and inclusion
  • Plant-Based Movement: companies innovating & investing in plant-based food for a better-tasting and greener future
  • Reuse and Reduce: companies converting waste materials into new materials and objects
  • Combat Carbon: companies actively working towards reducing their carbon footprint
  • Green Power: these energy companies produce power through sustainable and renewable means
  • Immigrant Founders: U.S.-based companies that were founded by immigrants
  • Water Works: companies responsible for supplying and purifying drinking water

For example, if you select the “Green Power” theme, the app will suggest a list of stocks like Tesla (TSLA) and NextEra Energy (NEE) and ETFs, such as the Guggenheim Solar ETF (TAN). This makes ESG stocks and funds easy to find.

🔔 Read the full review of Public’s themes.

💰 The winner: Tie. Both M1 Finance and Public have a good selection of sustainable stocks and funds and make finding these options easy.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Fractional shares

Both M1 Finance and Public let you buy fractions of shares.

Fractional shares allow you to buy a piece of a share if buying the entire thing is more than you would like to spend. For example, one share of Tesla (TSLA) stock costs $800, but if you only want to spend $100, you can buy 1/8 of that share. Buying fractions of shares limits how much cash is sitting in your account unspent.

💰 The winner: Tie.

Public vs. M1 Finance: Margin lending

M1 Finance lets you borrow against the value of your investments.

M1 Finance gives margin loans to customers with over $5,000 in their investment account. The platform charges 3.5% interest (2% for M1 Plus members), and you can borrow up to 35% of the value of your account.

💰 The winner: M1 Finance. Public doesn’t offer margin loans.

Public vs. M1 Finance : Rebalancing

M1 Finance will rebalance your portfolio when you buy or sell stock or click on the rebalance button.

Rebalancing is when a robo-advisor buys or sells investments to get to your optimal asset allocation, like 80% stocks and 20% bonds. Sometimes when one asset class, like stocks, does much better than another one, like bonds, your portfolio may “drift” and become riskier (or less risky) than it should be. Rebalancing solves that.

💰 The winner: M1 Finance. Public doesn’t offer rebalancing.

💰 The Overall Winner

Both apps offer:

  • Commission-free trading
  • Fractional shares
  • 5,000+ stocks and funds to choose from
  • Low minimum investment

Best for long-term investors: M1 Finance. M1 Finance targets long-term investors who want to build custom portfolios and rebalance those. It is great for:

  • Custom portfolios you can rebalance
  • Retirement accounts
  • Banking
  • Margin loans

Best for active and crypto investors: Public. Public is good for investors who want to place orders throughout the day and follow other investors’ trading activity. It is great for:

  • Social investing
  • Crypto
  • $0 minimum

🔔 Want to compare more options? Read our guide to ESG robo-advisors.

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